While some legendary metal acts are using this year and next year for farewell tours that will send their bands to the grave, others like Judas Priest have used these same years to refuel their tanks. Recently, they've tinkered the engine for another long ride with the release of their 17th studio album “Redeemer of Souls” in 2014. The record was Priest's highest-charted in their 45-year career with the addition of new guitarist Richie Faulkner.
Following the year-long touring stint in tandem with the release, Priest is hitting select areas in the U.S. and Canada this fall, with a Southern California show during Slipknot's annual Knotfest Festival in San Bernardino on Saturday night. Korn, Mastodon, Trivium, and Corrosion of Conformity will open the main stage for Priest with appearances by At the Gates, Gwar, Goatwhore, Inquisition, Kataklysm and Fire from the Gods performing on side stages throughout the day. The diversified bill of death, thrash, metalcore, nu metal and more will satisfy various tastes as the metal community comes together for the carnival from hell the weekend before Halloween. Vocalist and iconic frontman Rob Halford spoke with the OC Weekly about nostalgia in heavy metal, why a certain branch of the U.S. military is appealing to him and the future of Judas Priest music.
OC Weekly: Rachael Mattice: Did you watch the Harvest Moon last night (September 27th, 2015)?
Rob Halford: I did. I was here at my place in Arizona and was going for my night walk. There it was happening before my eyes. What a spectacular sight. I was able to see the entire eclipse take place; it was very potent.
I'm a bit nerdy when it comes to that kind of stuff. I was just reading today about a black hole that is supposed to be 360 million times bigger than the sun. You can't even grasp those kinds of concepts. If you have a creative mind like what we have, it makes you think about the mystery of life and mystery of the universe. Did you see it?
I did. I also happened to be listening to your music at the same time.
You did? That never really crossed my mind to listen to music and put my headphones on. Although I'll tell you something, Rachael, Judas Priest wrote a song many years ago called “Desert Plains” (1981) which starts, “Full moon rising, the sky is black, I heed your call I'm coming back” like a motorcycle going across the desert. It's that type of imagery going on. The idea for that song came from Arizona. So it did have some connectivity for me there.
Black Sabbath and the song “Lady Evil” were on my list too.
Great choice of music selection with my late dear friend, Ronnie (James Dio). I listen to Ronnie for so many weeks at a time. I find his voice so inspiring and so powerful for me as a singer. I always listen to Ronnie before I go on stage with Priest because I find his voice invigorating. It gets my blood pumping and gets me in the zone before I go out and do my thing with Priest. I pretty much listen to him almost every time.
He was a very influential singer. If you listen to him now, you can almost imagine what he was like behind the mic in the studio because he's so committed; you can tell in his delivery, presence and performance. It's almost as if he's just recorded it and laid the track down last week. That's the great thing about Ronnie; he had that kind of engineered dynamic that is very difficult to capture in the studio, but he delivered that at every show night after night.
I've noticed that Priest has performed on a lot of the same festival bills as Slipknot, even in 2015. What are you looking forward to most headlining Slipknot's own festival here in Southern California?
A festival is a very special event because you're playing to a mixed crowd of metal heads who are there for this band or that band. For a band like Priest, to be in the company of extraordinary talent playing that day, is a thrill because it's a celebration of metal in a lot of senses.
It's going to be quite a diverse bill from what I've been told. If you're a metal head and love this kind of music, this is going to be a real treat. The festivals of that nature provide a great opportunity for all the bands, but for the metal community to come together as well.
We're very familiar with the venue, we've played there many times and it's a great location. We know there is going to be a lot of people there from different parts of California, but also from across the country as well.
A recent anniversary to mention is the release of “Painkiller” a little over 25 years ago. In sort of celebration for this upcoming tour, will more songs from this album appear on your set list for this fall tour or your Knotfest stop?
We've agreed to change up the set list a little bit and throw in some extra songs. We agreed to collect some of the “classic” tracks, as you'll probably want to call them, which we haven't played for a very long time. We'll kick the tires on those tunes and see what we got.
All of these albums later and hundreds of songs later, it's difficult to try and cover the territory with the time that you got. You have to go with the significant moments. We're at that kind of place where Priest is a time machine for a lot of our fans, being on this metal train. Equally, there are a lot of songs like “Painkiller” that demand attention no matter what generation of metal heads you are playing for. We're going to mix it up. The first set of California stops will be different from what we've been doing on the “Redeemer of Souls” tour.
Is there a third phase in the cycle of a band's greatest hits that make them memorable even to the non-fans around the world? Such as, when “Breaking the Law” and “You've Got Another Thing Coming” you're stoked to play the new song to fans and it becomes so big that eventually you get sick of playing it. But does it have a new level of excitement and appreciation when you're playing some of these songs decades later?
It's really that round and round thing, isn't it? We'll put a song to bed and wake it up again 5 years later and it sounds fresh. It should be like going to see an action movie or something of that nature. There is a certain expectation. You're dealing with that internally as a band while you're doing what everyone else expects. You're looking for balance.
The thing I always loved about Priest, Rachael is that we do our own song as its own kind of spotlight. When you see a Priest show, we always want to emphasize the individuality of each track. It's like going down the gold mine. You make all these new discoveries during a Priest show that will hopefully tell you something new and different about the band. You can't be 100 percent satisfied, but you know your heart is in the right place. It's a thrill to still be able to go out there globally and make reactions.
I was watching a Judas Priest “The Early Years” documentary and you're discussing your times growing up and going to school and I noticed that you're wearing two United States Marine Corps pins and an Army airborne badge on your leather jacket. What about the military, or specifically the USMC, was or is appealing to you?
Oh my god, this could be a book. There are two sides of this question to me. One of it is based on all of the things people in the military represent, which is the simple fact of keeping us safe in this troubled world. It's also the mindset of the military which has these virtues that mean a lot to me as a person and believing in the cause, in this case a United States Marine, or a Sailor or a Green Beret. There is something very potent and personal and very deep about that conviction, discipline and dedication which I love about their service. That's not just America, but anywhere in the world really. A lot of people go into the military service for different reasons, but my belief is the vast majority did it for those feelings. There is something that draws them into that place which tells them, “This is what I need to do.” That side is very important to me.
I'm going to stop there, and go into a completely different direction and tell you that as a gay man, the United States Marine Corps has been very attractive to me. There is something very sensual about that branch of the military and … this is great because I don't really know where my mind is going.
The fact that there are now gay men and women who can openly serve their country is a wonderful thing.
I think the Marine Corps also has a sense of masculinity. There was a U.S. president that said something about the USMC that really encapsulated these types of guys. I can't remember what it was. I think it's also possible it has to do with my own struggles as a gay man. Being a masculine gay guy, and please don't take that the wrong way either. I love all of my gay friends no matter how they appear, I'm trying to use that as an open reference. In my own journey as a gay guy in a straight band and a gay guy in a straight world and a metal world, I found the connection again through the Marine Corps.
A part of me feels like I cannot explain myself properly because it's very deep for me on a certain level. I hope I kind of touched some of the main nerve points of that question. That's a great question, a very cool question. It's almost like being in psychiatric care right now. It gives me a chance to say something that I haven't before.
It's a mixed bag of things. It's the masculinity, it's the virtue, the eroticism, it's a bunch of things rolled into one that make me a hardcore Marine supporter and offer my respect. There are other things I could tell you, Rachael, but I'm not going to because I'm going to save them for the book.
Last but not least, when can we expect new Judas Priest music?
We had a fantastic time writing as a trio with myself, Glenn (Tipton) and Richie (Faulkner) when we put the music together for “Redeemer of Souls.” It was such a blast. Every day there was something sparking in the studio. Sometimes it was just parts of songs, sometimes it would just be riffs or vocal melodies. Our label wanted us to stop, which is difficult when you are in that creative zone. We had to get everything done in a certain time frame.
We have some stuff in the vault that are not complete. We want to get those pieces together that we finished months ago. The fact that this was Richie's first experience in the writing world of Priest was just so fresh. It was great to have a different head musically and on the guitars. He had extraordinary riffs and ideas which was great.
Yes, there has to be at least one more Priest album. When? I don't know. My beliefs will be when we finish this touring cycle at the holidays, we'll take a break and venture into the studio again and make another record.
Knotfest commences on Friday at San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino and closes Sunday evening. To view the rosters and buy tickets and camping passes to Knotfest, visit the festival website here. To buy Judas Priest's 2014 album “Redeemer of Souls,” 1990's “Painkiller or any other record in their discography, visit the band's website.